Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hello, words. I've missed you.

Words. Subtly shaping scenes or brazenly baring broken lives; coldly cutting to the core or whimsically weaving wishes. Beauty; ugliness; pain; love; forgiveness; entrapment. Art. The beauty of words lies in their truth; or perhaps it is their beauty that reveals their truth. And in that truth, the purity and simplicity of naked words - yet neither of those is truth; so, then, perhaps words also are lies.

Words manipulate, they trick. Words make the sinister seem scrupulous; the magnificent, mundane.

To craft words is to know words; to wield words wildly or willfully. A bit of both brings clarity - though sometimes opacity - with a dash of style, a pinch of wit and just a bit of poetry. Inspiration isn't charity.

Stripped of ornamentation, words are just as powerful. Tell a story with adjectives not adverbs. Describe the city by what you see - sidewalks cluttered with construction and pedestrians; white-and-black cabs and rusty motorbikes vie for space in crowded streets; a sandy haze settled low on a horizon of dusty rooftops - and others will see it, too.

Yet words are a capricious craft: the wrong word will rend and raze and render meaningless what was painstakingly built, purposefully created. The wrong word sits heavily, awkwardly, marring hate as fully as joy; loathing diluted to dislike, euphoria whittled away to simple synonyms of happiness and contentment.

Words are used and abused; cultivated and created. Words are a necessity; words are a luxury. They gather together and tear apart and stand between. Written or scribbled or intricately painted; crooned, whispered, shouted, spoken, sung. Intransigent. Maleable. Uncompromising. Submissive.

Hello, words. I've missed you.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Mona Eltahawy speaks out about sexual assault by Egypt police

Mona Eltahawy speaks to CNN after being arrested, beaten, and sexually assaulted by Egyptian riot police.

She says, "I am one of many" who have faced such treatment and she wants the world to know the "brutality of the Egyptian police force." She says she finally refused to answer questions of the military investigations on the grounds that she is a civilian, and was released after about 12 hours in custody.

She says the Egyptian military apologized for the actions of the riot police and said they did not know why she was detained.

Mona was arrested sometime before 3:45am on Thursday, November 24, 2011 and released shortly after noon. For more on her ordeal, check her Twitter stream or these articles:
- Egyptian-American journalist arrested in Cairo
- Egyptian authorities release detained Egyptian-American journalist

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Questions over type of gas used against Egypt demonstrators remain unanswered

Every Egyptian who was in the streets during Egypt’s January uprising, it seems, insists the gas used against demonstrators over the past five days is much stronger than what was used in January.

There are rumors that Egyptian Central Security Forces are not using CS gas, known as ‘tear gas’ and commonly used to disperse demonstrations, but the more debilitating CR gas. One difference in the substances is that while water dilutes CS gas, it exacerbates the effects of CR gas.

Some have claimed that there are nerve agents in the gases used against demonstrators in Mohamed Mahmoud Street, which connects Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square to the Ministry of Interior in downtown Cairo.

Even Mohamed el-Baradei, a popular presidential hopeful and former director of the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency, has suggested that the gas used by riot police against demonstrators isn’t just tear gas.

“Tear gas with nerve agents and live ammunition are being used against civilians,” Baradei said on his official Twitter account on Tuesday. “A massacre is taking place.”

According to Ministry of Health figures, at least 35 people have been killed since clashes broke out between demonstrators and CSF on Saturday morning. Thousands have been injured.

Medics on the scene say the symptoms they have seen over the past five days are completely different from those they saw during demonstrations in January.

One medic told me today that the chest pain, convulsions and seizures caused by the gas during the past weel were not seen at all in January.

Many consider this proof that a different gas is being used.

However, there is another factor: the vast majority of the gas used in January was expired. Most canisters listed a manufacture date of 1999 with a five-year shelf life. The majority of the canisters seen over the past five days - either personally or in photos - were manufactured in August 2010 and consequently are not expired.

“It’s possible,” one medic told me when asked if the new symptoms could simply be from non-expired tear gas. “We won’t know until it’s tested in the lab.”

Two medics today told me that Human Rights Watch and other international NGOs have taken samples of the gases and canisters to determine what they are.

Many gas canisters are marked ‘RIOT CS SMOKE,’ but many more bear no markings whatsoever.

Another medic said samples analyzed in the pharmacy revealed minute traces of cyanide, an extremely deadly poison.

No other sources have confirmed or denied this, and me was not given access to the report.

The Egyptian Ministry of Health says it is also analyzing samples and will reveal the full results without holding anything back.

Some, however, are skeptical.

“We can’t trust what the Ministry of Health says,” one medic in Tahrir Square told me. “They won’t tell us the truth.”

The names of the medics who spoke to me have been withheld for their safety.

This post was initially published at Youm7 English Edition (offline since Jan 2012).

Monday, November 21, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

The heart of an activist

Until a few weeks ago, I knew Alaa Abdel Fattah simply as '@alaa,' a handle and a picture I had followed on Twitter for nearly two years.

I didn't realize until he was detained by Egypt's military prosecution last month that Alaa is the brother of Mona Seif, another Tweep I've followed for nearly two years and only met a few months ago and a staunch supporter of Egypt's No Military Trials for Civilians initiative.

On October 30, 2011 Alaa voluntarily responded to a summons by Egypt's military prosecution. In fact, he didn't just respond, he flew back to Egypt from the United States specifically to attend the summons. Alaa is essentially accused of attacking the military during violent clashes that left 27 dead on October 9 (read my experience that night here).

Alaa then refused to be investigated by the military prosecution on the grounds that he is a civilian, and he was consequently remanded into custody for investigation.

He's still in custody.

I've never met Alaa, but there are some things I know about him through others and through the actions of others. I know that Alaa is willing to fight for a cause he believes in. I know that Alaa is a person to be respected, in part because of the massive outpouring of support after his detention. I know that without people like Alaa, Egypt's January uprising would never have begun or been sustained.

Dozens of Egyptian activists and supporters have changed their user pictures on Twitter to versions of Alaa's avatar; a '#freealaa' campaign has flourished; some activists have changed their Facebook pictures to a picture of Alaa; political activist and long-time public figure Gameela Ismail announced a delay in the launch of her electoral campaign over Alaa's imprisonment; and Alaa's mother has begun a hunger strike.

In interviews posted on YouTube, Alaa is thoughtful and somehow reserved, but determined. The night before he flew back to Egypt to respond to the summons, an interviewer asked him why he was going back, why he didn't just stay in the United States.

"I've personally carried the bodies of comrades who did not run away from bullets. I cannot live with myself if I run away from something much more trivial," said Alaa. "How would I look at myself in the mirror if I hide or run away?"

Alaa's wife, Manal, was nine months pregnant with their first child when her husband responded to the military summons. It's reminiscent of Alaa's early years: his father was imprisoned and tortured as a political detainee.

This video gives you a look into the life of Alaa and his parents; how he was raised to be the man he is. In short, it gives some insight into the heart of an activist who embodies the spirit that inspired and sustained Egypt's January uprising; the determination and strength of spirit that continues to give me hope for Egypt's future: